tradition places the election of the Republic's first Doge in 697,
supposedly at a convocation in Heraclea called by the Patriarch of
Grado. That account seems to hopelessly confuse the role of several
early figures who were merely provincial Byzantine officials. The
actual event must be found 30 years later.
most of the 8th century, the Lombard kingdom
centered at Pavia in north central Italy continued to chip away at
the remaining Italian territories of the Roman [Byzantine] Empire,
which by then was based in far-away Constantinople [modern-day Istanbul]
with an Italian seat of government at Ravenna.
In 726 a wave
of unrest swept through the communities of Italy that remained subject
to the Byzantine Empire. The cause was ostensibly a religious issue--a
decree by the Byzantine emperor forbidding the use of icons and holy
images and requiring their destruction--but other simmering frustrations
must have fuelled the controversy as well. The anomoly of the decree
was that, while most of the Byzantine Empire answered to the Greek
Orthodox church headed by the Patriarch at Constantinople, the Italian
portion of the Empire remained loyal to the Pope at Rome. Encouraged
by Pope Gregory II, the Italian cities quickly began to claim independence
from Byzantium and elect their own local leaders.
period passed quickly, as it became clear that the Byzantine emperor's
decree would have no real force in the West and that at least nominal
sovereignty by the Byzantine Empire was valuable in keeping the Lombards
at bay. The entire episode might have passed with little note in history
were it not for the particular result at Venice. The leader elected
there in 727 with the Latin title of Dux (or, in the Venetan
dialect, Doge) was Orso Ipato. The process of electing a local
Doge was continued after his death in 737, making him the first elected
leader of a republic that was to survive almost 1,100 years--the longest
lived republic in history.